American Pop artist Leslie Lew, who has been creating her unique “sculpted oils” for 30 years, actually is following a 3,500-year-old artistic tradition that art historians believe began on the island of Crete, site of the earliest known frescoes.
Unlike paintings done onto walls, frescoes are painted while their plaster base is wet—thus the term, “wet-on-wet”—so that the pigments are absorbed into the drying plaster. Because the pigments are part of the wall, they are not as vulnerable to the myriad threats to paintings applied only on the surface, and they have endured for centuries.
Using the wet-on-wet technique with oil paints, Lew swiftly applies various coats of paint onto the base layers while they are wet, creating a high relief for her special three-dimensional effect.
“I start with a blank canvas that I sketch out with all the drawing and detail. I then go into it by mounding titanium white acrylic paint with brushes to create the forms. I go back with thick oil paint, wet on wet, until I finish the painting. I only work on one painting at a time.
Lew explains that at first, she used a base of layers of oil paint. “The earlier paintings before 1992 were created entirely in oil paint, without the foundation of titanium white acrylic.” But she notes that oil paint can take up to 200 years to dry, this created subsurface problems, so she switched to the quick-drying acrylic for a stable base layer.
Virginia Miller, owner and director of Greater Miami’s longest-established fine art gallery, says that in her more than 40 years’ experience in art she has never seen anyone who creates high-relief oil paintings of nostalgic subjects like Lew. In Miller’s words: “Leslie Lew is truly an American original.”